After basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, in 1961, I went to the Army Signal School at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, which was close to Eatontown. We all had to do KP (kitchen police – we set up for and cleaned up after meals), which I hated. So I joined the Drum and Bugle Corps, which was excused from KP. I played the bass drum. We all mostly got along and we had a good relationship with the Corps commander, a lieutenant, who was pretty easygoing.

Tony Scarpelli at the Army Signal School at Fort Monmouth, N.J., in 1961. Photo courtesy of Tony Scarpelli

Every week we had an inspection of the unit by the lieutenant. No dust anywhere, floors had to  be waxed, beds had to be perfectly made, our foot locker had to be perfectly packed with our clothes and our lockers had to be perfect with our hanging uniforms. If they weren’t, we were gigged: That is, we got points off, and too many points meant another inspection or, worse, not being able to go off base into town.

After one inspection we were going over the gig report and noticed a funny one. For some reason a praying mantis had wandered onto one of the beds. The report said our pet wasn’t tied up.

Thinking we could outsmart the lieutenant, we had one of the guys find the mantis and, with a piece of string, tie it to the bed frame.

We got gigged again. We all laughed. The report said the pet didn’t salute the lieutenant.

That was a long time ago, when I was 18; I’m 79 now. The Army certainly changed me, and there were a few more stories, like during the Cuban missile crisis, or when Kennedy died. These memories keep popping up, even after all these years. Ah, isn’t there a song about memories?

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